Political observers have talked for years about American presidents and the frequency with which they run into the “second-term curse.” It hasn’t affected every president – Barack Obama, for example, avoided the “curse” – but in many modern administrations, presidents have confronted serious crises and scandals in the latter half of their two terms.
In fact, going into this year, only two American presidents have ever been the subject of federal criminal inquiries – Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton – and both ran into trouble in their second terms.
This small club, however, now has a new member, with Donald Trump facing his own criminal investigation. Time will tell what becomes of the ongoing federal probe, but MSNBC’s Ari Melber raised an interesting numerical point yesterday: when Nixon first faced a criminal inquiry into his misconduct in office, he’d been president for 1,580 days. For Clinton, it was 1,835 days.
For Trump, it was 145 days. His second-term curse arrived in his first term – before he’d even reached his first 4th of July in the White House. I made the above chart to help drive the point home.
I can appreciate why it feels like Trump has been in office for a very long time, but the fact remains that his presidency hasn’t yet reached the five-month mark.
The second-term curse has multiple explanations, but as a rule, one of the driving factors involve important missteps in a president’s first term, which later come to light, leading to controversies and investigations that unfold after they’ve been in office or five or six years.
Trump has demonstrated an affinity for the phrase “ahead of schedule.” Its applicability, it turns out, is surprisingly broad.